As per usual, the actions of mini-bus taxis blocking the highways in Gauteng on 15 June solicited the expected social media madness. I have not come across a single post on Facebook that could be considered anything less than extremely negative. The messages ranged between disgust and accusations of criminality – tainting all taxi operators as nothing but terrorists.
Before I continue, I have to confess my own immediate reaction to the chaos when the news broke, was also of the knee-jerk variety: bloody #@$%!!
And of course the footage ‘supported and proved’ that they are all a bunch of aggressive and dim-witted saboteurs. Only our own perceptions from our ivory towers mattered; why on earth should we consider anyone else’s motivation for actions we disagree with. The blockade lasted a few hours but the verbal violence on social media cannot be measured.
Now that the few hours of frustration of commuters’ inconvenience have passed, we should all take time to reflect and endeavour to put it into perspective; for our own sanity if nothing else.
I saw a post and resultant comments about someone smashing a car windscreen. Immediately the assumption was that it was one of the taxi operators who attacked an innocent motorist minding his or her own business, patiently waiting to get through the gridlock. Was it now? What if it was someone who used the situation to physically express his vandalism or worse; a real criminal? What if the motorist provoked this person by hurtling verbal abuse and threats? Under the circumstances and my experience of fellow South Africans, I would root for this one.
My favourite is the condemnation on social media citing the damage to the economy. I am not denying that there had been serious financial losses due to this protest, but as with all protests, there may be valid reasons to revert to desperate measures. Allow me to consider a few that comes to mind.
A report stated that a mini-bus taxi owner has to fork out R15, 000.00 per month over 72 months for a hire purchase of the vehicle at a 28% interest rate. What would your reaction be if a finance house offers you such deal? This most probably excludes repairs and maintenance. For sake of argument, let’s peg the running cost at R1.00 per kilometre. The SA Taxi Finance Holdings company against whom the protest was aimed states that such a vehicle travels on average 6500 kilometres per month. If my maths is worth anything, the cost of the mini-bus amounts to R1, 548, 00.00 over the period. It then would have 468 000km on the odometer. What would a willing buyer be prepared to fork out for this as a second hand purchase? The roadworthiness at this point in time would also be a serious concern, especially considering that it will still be used to transport passengers.
Is it then any wonder that they drive the way they do? Chasing fares just to get to the break-even point of R21, 500.00 per month!
On a normal day the taxi drivers are regarded as just hooligans, scoff-laws, road hogs, a danger to other road users and menace to society in general. Yet, in lieu of a sufficient and affordable public transport system in this country, these mini-bus taxis bring the largest percentage of employees to their place of work every single day. What would the damage be to the economy be if businesses faced the problem of their biggest asset (employees) not arriving for work every day?
Should this industry not be seen, and treated, as the real public transport system? Instead of criticising and condemning the mini-bus industry, should the private sector not consider coming to the party and contribute to it? Maybe, just maybe, this could have a positive influence on their “unacceptable” behaviour as well as change the perception of people who unknowingly rely on the industry for their own economic well-being.
As always, and this time with apologies to CCR, still I wonder who’ll stop the pain.